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Ancestral Pueblo hand prints and granaries at the Turkey Pen Ruin site in Utah

Coprolites from near the Turkey Pen Ruin Ancestral Pueblo site in Utah reveal ancient human diets.Russ Bishop/Alamy

A microbiome ‘extinction event’

Faeces from people who lived 1,000–2,000 years ago reveal that our gut bacteria has become significantly less diverse. Researchers analysed eight ‘palaeopoop’ samples from what is now the southwestern United States and Mexico. Even in that handful of samples from a relatively small region, almost 40% of the sequenced microbes were new to science. The results suggest that, over the past millennium, the human gut has experienced an “extinction event” in the bacteria that help to keep us healthy, says microbiologist Aleksandar Kostic. “These are things we don't get back.”

Science | 6 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Australian officials accused of burying research

Senior government officials in Australia spent months trying to stop scientists from publishing a paper that showed significant underspending on threatened species, according to an investigation by Guardian Australia. The 2019 paper found that Australia spent only 15% of what was needed to protect species from extinction. The paper was eventually published after the researchers removed references to the government’s programme for protecting threatened species and agreed to not publicize their findings. “We expect our governments to welcome robust, peer-reviewed science, regardless of what it reveals,” says a co-author of the paper, Martine Maron. The country’s environment department said in a statement that they “strongly reject any assertion that department officials sought to pressure researchers in relation to the non-publication or authorship of the paper”.

The Guardian | 5 min read

Reference: Conservation Letters paper


Deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016 because of long working weeks of 55 or more hours. (BBC | 5 min read)

Reference: Environment International paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update


T-cell test probes long-term immunity

US regulators have authorized a new type of SARS-CoV-2 test that relies on T cells, a kind of long-lived immune cell. The test, developed by US firm Adaptive Biotechnologies, is not meant to diagnose active infection, but to confirm whether someone has been exposed to the virus in the past. The T-cell test provides a complement to antibody testing, which looks for shorter-lived immune responses to a recent infection. The test can immediately be used to monitor how long the immunity bestowed by vaccines lasts.

Nature Biotechnology | 4 min read


The big aerosol blunder

It took a year for public-health guidance to converge on the fact that COVID-19 mostly spreads through the air and rarely through contaminated surfaces. The confusion was spawned in part by just one number: 5 micrometres. That’s the size that — according to outdated guidance — separates aerosols, which linger in the air, and droplets, which fall onto surfaces. Another problem: the divide between engineers and physicists, who study aerosols, and physicians, who worry about pathogens. As the pandemic raged, a small group of scientists fought to trace the poorly documented origins of the 5-micrometre fallacy, overcome the chasm between disciplines and change our understanding of how respiratory diseases spread.

Wired | 21 min read

Read more: COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning? (Nature | 11 min read)


Network lines connect nodes that represent Moderna, BioNTech and other mRNA vaccines.

This network analysis of mRNA-based vaccine candidates for COVID-19 reveals the web of intellectual-property claims that connect them. (Nature Biotechnology | 7 min read)

Notable quotable

“Let us promise ourselves our memory of this tragic reality — that an infectious disease disparately kills people of color — does not fade.”

Anthony Fauci, the highest-ranking infectious-disease scientist in the US government, calls for a commitment to health equality in his commencement address to Emory University. (The Hill | 3 min read)Read more: Will COVID force public health to confront America’s epic inequality? (Nature | 23 min read)

Features & opinion

How new PIs tackled a tumultuous year

Going from being a postdoctoral researcher to a laboratory leader is a challenge at the best of times. The past year was not the best of times. Five new principal investigators (PIs) share their experiences and advice for rookie lab leaders. Neuroscientist Rachel Lippert — who was stuck living in her ‘temporary’ house-share accommodation when Germany went into lockdown — still manages to see the silver lining of a rocky start as a PI: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to say, ‘I think we have something in common, can we chat for ten minutes?’,” she says. “Right now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to connect.”

Nature | 12 min read

‘The Incomparable’ Lady Ranelagh

Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, worked at the heart of seventeenth-century scientific, political and philosophical debates. But, because she obeyed the convention that women should not put their thoughts into print, she is remembered chiefly — if at all — as the sister of chemist and Royal Society co-founder Robert Boyle. A scrupulously researched history of Ranelagh’s contributions to the tumultuous seventeenth century gives us a second chance to meet the woman known as “the Incomparable”.

Nature | 5 min read

Where I work

Silvia Giordani in her lab at Dublin City University, Ireland.

Silvia Giordani is professor, chair of nanomaterials and head of the school of chemical science at Dublin City University in Ireland.Credit: Chris Maddaloni for Nature

“As a teenager, I realized I was too sensitive to suffering to become a medical doctor, yet I still wanted to cure the world,” says nanomaterials scientist Silvia Giordani. She works on ‘nano-onions’, nanoparticles consisting of concentric layers of carbon just 5 nanometres in diameter. Nano-onions carrying chemotherapeutic drugs could someday help people with cancer to escape some of the drugs’ side effects. (Nature | 3 min read)

Nature has a special award from the Society for News Design for the Where I Work weekly photo essay series. “Each photo has something that elevates it beyond a normal environmental photo,” said the judges. Catch up with past Where I Work articles here.